On April 1, 2024, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented new costs for many common immigration filings, resulting in a fee increase of 100% to 200% for certain visa categories including those utilized by US employers. In this Legal Update, we examine some of these new fees, the impact of the fee increase on USCIS and on US employers, and key takeaways.

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New Immigration Rules came into force in the UK on 4 April 2024 which affect employers who sponsor workers under the Skilled worker or Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Worker routes.

Continue Reading Raising The Bar: New UK Immigration Rules Increase Salary Thresholds For Sponsored Workers

Hong Kong has introduced a new and revamped Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (New CIES) aimed at enriching the talent pool and attracting more new capital to Hong Kong. Under the New CIES, foreign investors may be granted residency permission in Hong Kong (with a pathway to permanent residency) based on a qualifying investment in Permissible Investment Assets of not less than HK$30 million. In this Legal Update, Mayer Brown attorneys Eugene Y. C. Wong, Helen Wang, and Stephanie S. K. Lam discuss the New CIES Rules, including personal eligibility and net asset requirements, types of permissible investment assets, and portfolio maintenance requirements.  Hong Kong now rejoins a number of jurisdictions, including the United States and the United Kingdom, that offer investment-based visas, both temporary and permanent, to foreign investors and high net worth individuals.

Effective February 29, 2024, the Canadian government has reimposed visa requirements on certain Mexican nationals. Under the new rule, Mexican nationals traveling by air who hold a U.S. nonimmigrant visa or have held a Canadian visa within the past ten years will be eligible to apply for electronic travel authorization (eTA) to visit Canada. Mexican nationals who do not meet those requirements will need to apply for a Canadian visitor visa. Canada had previously lifted visa requirements for Mexican nationals in 2016.

Continue Reading Canada Updates Entry Requirements for Mexican Nationals

On January 1, 2024, the South Korean government launched a pilot program for digital nomad (or “workation”) visas. The pilot program will allow foreign nationals who work remotely for overseas corporations to live and work in South Korea for up to two years. With the introduction of the pilot program, South Korea joins several other countries – including Spain, Italy, Romania, Iceland, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia – in seeking to attract an increasingly mobile class of global talent through digital nomad visas.

Continue Reading South Korea Opens Pilot Program for Digital Nomad Visa

Effective January 1, 2024, the Department of State has authorized consular officers to waive required in-person interviews for an expanded subset of visa applicants.

Interviews now may be waived for the following categories:

  • First-time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers). 
  • Visa applicants applying for any nonimmigrant visa classification, provided that the applicant:
    • was previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification other than a B1/B2 visa; and
    • is applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa expiring.

To be eligible, all applicants seeking an interview waiver must:

  • Apply in their country of nationality or residence;
  • Have never been refused a visa (unless such refusal was overcome or waived); and
  • Have no apparent or potential ineligibility.

The authorization represents an expansion of candidates eligible for interview waiver.  In particular, consular officers previously had discretion to waive the in-person interview requirement only for individuals applying for renewal of nonimmigrant visas within 48 months of the prior US visa’s expiration date in the same visa classification.  The expansion permits waiver of interviews for individuals applying for nonimmigrant visas within 48 months of a prior US visa’s expiration date in any visa classification, with the exception of prior B1/B2 visas (for business visitors and tourists).

Waiver of in-person interviews is provided at the discretion of consular officers, who may still require in-person interviews on a case-by-case basis or because of local conditions.  We caution visa applicants that waiver of the in-person interview requirement does not guarantee faster visa processing by consular posts.

As of March 2024, the Schengen Area will partially expand through the lifting of air and sea border controls with Bulgaria and Romania. This marks the ninth expansion of the free movement zone, which most recently added Croatia in January 2023. Land border controls with Bulgaria and Romania will remain in place for the time being and the two countries will continue issuing national entry visas rather than Schengen visas. In announcing the expansion, the European Commission – the executive arm of the European Union – emphasized that discussions on lifting land border controls will continue in 2024.

Continue Reading Schengen Area Expands to Include Air & Sea Travel to Bulgaria & Romania

Effective January 1, 2024, Kosovo passport holders may travel to European Union member states in the Schengen Area without a passport, and may remain in Schengen territory for up to 90 days in any rolling 180-day period. EU passport holders are likewise now eligible to travel visa-free to Kosovo. The visa-free program includes travel to all EU member states that are part of the Schengen Area, as well as Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania, plus non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Kosovo passport holders will still require visas for travel to Ireland, which is an EU member but outside the Schengen Area.

Continue Reading EU and Kosovo Launch Mutual Visa-Free Travel Program

Effective December 23, 2023, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has lifted Türkiye’s visa requirement for six countries: United States, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Tourists from these countries are now permitted to spend 90 days out of a 180-day period in Türkiye without a visa. Previously, foreign nationals from these countries were required to obtain an e-visa for trade and tourism which could cost up to $78.50 depending on their nationality. The Presidential Decree was published on December 23, 2023, in the Resmî Gazete, the Official Gazette of the Republic of Türkiye.

On December 20, 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has updated its policy guidance on international students to consolidate and clarify existing policy regarding F and M nonimmigrant students. The updated guidance is in Volume 2, Part F, of the USCIS Policy Manual. Highlights include the following:

Nonimmigrant Intent

  • Per section 214(b) the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), international students in the F or M categories must intend to depart from the United States after a temporary period of stay and have a foreign residence that they have no intention of abandoning. Relying on the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual as authority, USCIS clarifies in its guidance that the foreign residence requirement should be adjudicated differently for students than for other nonimmigrants, considering that students typically lack the strong economic and social ties of more established applicants. For example, if a student had a foreign residence immediately prior to traveling to the United States, even if such residence was with parents, they may be considered to be maintaining a residence abroad if they have the present intent to depart the United States at the conclusion of their studies. Relying on the premise that most students are young, USCIS explains that international students are not expected to have long-range plans for after graduation, as long as the student presently has the intent to depart the US at the conclusion of approved activities. USCIS does not address whether older students who, for example, reside with spouses and children, can similarly qualify for the category without being able to articulate long-range plans.
  • USCIS further clarifies that an international student in F or M visa status may be the beneficiary of an approved or pending permanent labor certification application or immigrant petition and still be able to demonstrate their present intent to depart the US at the conclusion of approved activities, as the fact that the student’s intent may change in the future is not a sufficient reason to deny them student classification. Despite this interpretation of nonimmigrant intent by USCIS as it relates to F or M visa status, student visa applicants are cautioned that the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, which controls adjudications of F and M visa applications at consular posts abroad, uses considerably less permissible language. Rather, the Foreign Affairs Manual indicates that, while a visa requiring nonimmigrant intent may be issued to an applicant with an active immigrant petition, it reminds officers that such a petition is “reflective of an intent to immigrate” and consular officers may not issue F or M visas if they have reason to believe the applicant intends to remain in the United States beyond their authorized period of stay. 9 FAM 401.1-3(E)(2).

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

  • USCIS specifies that an F student seeking an extension of optional practical training (OPT) based on a degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field may be employed by a startup company, as long as the employer adheres to the training plan requirements, remains in good standing with E-Verify, provides compensation commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers, and has the resources to comply with the proposed training plan.  Notably, the updated guidance clarifies that alternative forms of compensation, such as stock options, may be permitted during a STEM OPT extension as long as the employer provides the same type of compensation to similarly situated US workers.  The requirements that the STEM OPT employer remain in good standing with E-Verify and have the resources and personnel required to appropriately train the F-1 student remain unchanged.